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Spelt in Umbria: an old tradition still alive

Mario Polia - Anthropologist

Spelt in Umbria: an old tradition still alive
The use of spelt in Umbria is very ancient: this cereal, in Italy, has provided an irreplaceable intake for the human consumption at least until, during V century b.C., the grain began to establish itself in the daily diet by replacing the use of the spelt without decreeing its disappearance. Archaeological evidence dating back to the Iron Age show the importance of spelt in food uses, in the funeral rituals, for example, in the offering that accompanied the deceased in the burial ground of the Roman Forum.

With the adoption of the grain, the use of the bread replaced that of the ancient polenta, known in Latin as Puls, prepared with spelt flour. Even when the wheat, whose use is spreading from Egypt, came to replace the spelt on the table of Romans, the ancient sacred prestige of this cereal cultivated by their ancestors remained intact in the offerings to the gods - such as libum, a spelt focaccia offered to the god Giano at the beginning of the year - in the ancient rite of the aristocrat marriage - the name of "confarreatio" refers to the sharing of a spelt focaccia between the couple whose marriage bond was made under the jurisdiction of Jupiter. The mola salsa, also - the toasted spelt flour made by the Vestal priestesses, mixed with a brine, especially prepared by them - was an indispensable ingredient in the sacrifices: according to a law belonging to Numa, in fact, no animal victim could be sacrificed without having been previously sprinkled with this holy sauce. The Greek historian Plutarch said that at the time of Numa the bloodshed was banned by the cult and during the sacrifices they used spelt, milk and wine. The sprinkling of this mola salsa was called in Latin "to immolate" and the "immolated" was that the victim, expression of pontifical lexicon passed to the Italian language with the sense of "sacrifice" and "sacrificed." The Vestal Virgins, in June during the celebration of Vestalia, handed to the Roman matrons one bag of mola salsa, thus, sanctioning the priestess function of domestic worship carried out by Roman woman. According to an ancient custom, the brave soldier was rewarded with enough spelt to sow a portion of arable land in one day. This prize was called "adorea" from ador, one of the ancient Latin names for the spelt. King Numa also would set up the cult at Fornax, the goddess who protected the spelt during the delicate phase of toasting in the oven which allows the removal of grains from the hard seed coat that covers them.